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Last Updated : Jun 19, 2019 10:19 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Why Congress is distressed about Rajya Sabha by-elections in Gujarat

Congress has filed a petition with the Supreme Court challenging EC's notification to conduct the bypolls through separate ballot paper system. The plea is scheduled to be heard on June 19

Aakriti Handa @aakriti_handa

The election of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Amit Shah (from Gandhinagar) and Smriti Irani (from Amethi) to the 17th Lok Sabha has vacated two seats in the Rajya Sabha, necessitating bypolls for the Upper House.

Gujarat sends 11 Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Rajya Sabha, of which currently four belong to the Congress, five to the BJP while two remain vacant.

The Election Commission of India (EC) has announced that the bypolls in Gujarat, Bihar and Odisha will be held on July 5 between 9.00 am to 4.00 pm. The counting of votes will happen on the same day at 5.00 pm.

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How are by-elections to the Rajya Sabha held?

According to the provisions of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, vacancies to the by-election “will be considered as separate vacancies and separate notifications are issued and separate poll is taken for each of the vacancies although the programme schedule for the by-elections may be common,” the EC has announced.

This time, the deployment of a separate ballot paper system instead of a preferential ballot system is a major departure from elections to the Rajya Sabha.

In a preferential ballot system, the ballot paper carries names of the candidates and the Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) mark their preference by writing numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. against the candidate’s names.

In addition, this preferential ballot comes with the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, in which each MLA’s vote is counted only once; but the single vote is transferable to the next candidate in the order of preference.

For instance, let’s suppose an MLA has given his/her first preference to candidate X and second preference to candidate Y. However, X has polled the least number of first preference votes. In that case, the MLA’s vote is transferred to candidate Y.

In the separate ballot paper system, as is going to be the case this time, elections to two seats will be treated as two separate elections with separate ballot boxes and ballot papers. Hence, the issue of marking a preference does not arise.

In 2017, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel was contesting for the third seat and won by a small margin. The election was conducted through the preferential ballot system then.

What difference will that make?

A separate ballot paper makes the chances of the ruling party’s candidate winning significantly higher. That is because, each MLA will be voting twice as opposed to the preferential ballot system where each MLA’s vote is counted once.

Mathematically, Gujarat has a total of 182 MLAs -- 100 from the BJP, 77 from the Congress, two from the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), one from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and three Independents. Assuming that all of them vote during the Rajya Sabha by-election, a preferential ballot would have required a favourable votes from at least 61 MLAs for either party’s candidate to win.

That is to say, if 61 MLAs chose a candidate as their first choice, he/she gets elected to the Rajya Sabha.

In this case, there was a good chance for the Congress to win one seat and the BJP to win the other. The BJP could not have won both as that would have required a total of 122 votes in the favour of BJP’s candidates, since each MLA’s vote is counted only once.

However, in the separate ballot paper system, the BJP, which has a majority in the Assembly, will garner enough votes for their candidates in the two individual polls. Which means, the saffron party has significantly higher chances of winning both seats and retaining their berths in the Upper House.

The Congress has cried foul, filing a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the EC’s notification to conduct the by-election through separate ballot paper system. The plea is scheduled to be heard on June 19.

With Congress’ strength in the Gujarat Assembly reducing to 71, and the recent defections of Alpesh Thakore and Dhavalsinh Zala, the party is keeping its stock together. Speculation is rife that the saffron party is trying to poach more Congress MLAs, asking them either to join the party or to cross-vote. This has only added to the woes of the Grand Old Party which is battling existentialism.

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First Published on Jun 19, 2019 10:19 am
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